Thursday, September 13, 2018

In the end: thoughts on ALL IN two weeks removed

I talked about the importance of ALL IN a week ahead of the event. Now almost two weeks removed, I finally can talk about ALL IN as an event.

The show started out with an interesting opening bout. MJF and Matt Cross came in without a match and they answered the reason by facing each other one on one. This was smartly done after the Over Budget Battle Royal on the pre-show. The two men played a rather simple story: the cocky heel working the arm against the high flying veteran. But the simple battle allowed them to keep the crowd hot as they built up to a fine shooting star press finish.

The first Bullet Club appearance came from the celebrity wing as Stephen Amell emerged to face Christopher Daniels. Unlike other matches, the announcers over-looked the whole "framed for murder" angle from Being the Elite. Yet the two men spent the match showcasing how naturally gifted Amell is an athlete. His wrestling was far from perfect, but with Jerry Lynn as ref and the ring veteran as his opponent. Ultimately Amell's anger would prove his undoing as he brought a table into the match only to go through it. A Best Moonsault Ever served as the final nail through the coffin to give him his first wrestling loss.

Don Callis left ringside to allow injured Women of Honor Tenille Dashwood and Mandy Leon to join commentary with Ian Riccaboni and Excalibur. This was my first time seeing Dr. Britt Baker in action. Chelsea Green came in working a combination of her indie and her Impact personalities with a great Two-Face look. The veteran Madison Rayne and the arguable queen bee of indie wrestling Tessa Blanchard rounded out the four corner match. Tessa comes off a title victory on Impact just days before, so the young powerhouse already came in with momentum. Yet much of the match served as more of a spotlight for Baker and Green. Those two women seemed the primary focus, with only Rayne getting the short end of the stick in storytelling. Ultimately Tessa powered through for the win and showed why she deserves every ounce of attention on her right now. WWE made a huge mistake not signing her when they could, as I suspect she's going to make huge waves through wrestling into 2019.

Brent Tarring was the only commentator I wasn't familiar with coming into this match. Turns out he worked on OVW, in fact calling Cody's very first match. His arrival served to intensify the big fight feel as we moved into the NWA Worlds Heavyweight title match against Nick Aldis. Both men came with an entourage, Cody with his wife Brandi Rhodes, DDP, Tommy Dreamer and Ray "Glacier" Lloyd. (I won't pretend how happy that last name makes me.) Aldis came in with Jeff Jarrett, Shawn Daivari and two men that have become key to NWA: Tim Storm and Samuel Shaw.

Suddenly the pitch of the arena picked up as a fight months in the making was happening. The announce team and the crowd didn't hide from the importance of Cody making a run at the title his dad held on three separate instances. Instead they pushed that narrative as the two men brutalized each other in a mix of modern wrestling and old school Southern style. Cody wrapped himself in a crimson mask as the two battled, but neither man would fall to the other's finish. Ultimately, he would turn a sunset flip attempt by Aldis into a deep cradle to score victory and become the next NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion.

I've read a few complaints about the placement of this match as fourth on the card, but I really think it serves this bout well. While this is arguably the most momentous match on the card, Aldis and Cody don't bring the insanity of the later matches on the card. Their straight up styles work well together, but would have seemed like a bit of a slow down after any of the other matches on the card. By placing it here, it feels like a huge bout but also sets up the fact that from here out, this is a true supercard, filled with dream matches and big bouts for the rest of the night.

Hangman Page went into easily the biggest match of his career against a star also appearing on his biggest stage ever, Joey Janela. Page admitted publically to the murder of Joey Ryan, a long running story on Being the Elite 48 hours earlier. He expressed a hatred for anyone or anything called Joey. Hangman Page came in as a man possessed. His current storyline might be somewhat silly, but it has done wonders in giving him a full-fledged character to build his character around. He showed that several times in the match as both his boots and the infamous phone found their way into the match. He picked up his win after putting Janela head first through a table.

Of course the story for Page continued as a wall of men in penis costumes opened the return of Joey Ryan. Ryan brutalized Page once again before his army carried him from the arena. That's a sight you will never see in WWE.

Two storylines from Being the Elite combined in the ROH championship match. Flip Gordon snuck into the Over Budget Battle Royal to win his way onto the ALL IN event. Meanwhile, Jay Lethal suffered an injury that caused him to routinely delve back into his Black Machismo personality. Brandi accompanied Flip to the ring, while Jay Lethal came to the ring in a classic Macho Man jacket accompanied by "Leaping" Lanny Poffo, his "brother from another mother". Lethal had some fun character work, especially confusing Brandi for Miss Elizabeth repeatedly. We even gave a few Mega Powers references between the two stars.

And that was really what this match was about. It showed why Lethal deserves far more praise for his work around the world and why Flip deserves a higher place on the ROH card. Ultimately, Lethal retains, which leads to maybe the weakest bonus segment of the night, where Bully Ray assaults both men leading to Colt Cabana coming out and hitting a Shield style powerbomb with Gordon and Lethal.

In a dream match for myself and many others, Penta El Zero Miedo took on Kenny Omega. This one proves hard to describe, but both men brought the A games they were knew for well ahead of this match. Both men destroyed the other, but with the IWGP Heavyweight champion in this battle, the winner seemed clear from the start. Omega hit the One Winged Angel for the decided victory after a hard fought contest.

Of course, his night wasn't done. After the lights went out, Penta was back on his feet, only he grew a couple inches. A disguised Chris Jericho assaulted Omega and landed two codebreakers before he promised to see the champ on the Jericho Cruise.

The semi-main event was designed as a star-maker and Marty Scurll didn't disappoint in his role. He went toe to toe with Kazuchika Okada in an epic encounter that builds beautifully on both men's move sets. The All In umbrella to stop the Rainmaker was inspired, as was Scurll following it up with a Rainmaker of his own. Ultimately, Scurll showed his toughness and Okada took him seriously, as he delivered two straight Rainmakers to get the pin over The Villain.

The main event was truncated for time because of the broadcast, but honestly, it doesn't show. The six men are perfect for a fast paced match, so each team throwing all of their biggest bombs at the others in an eleven minute car wreck actually worked rather well. While I'd like to have seen more spots with Kota Ibushi and the Young Bucks jelling, ultimately they put on an impressive match with Rey Mysterio, Rey Fenix and Bandido.

In the end, I suppose one can look at ALL IN as just another pay-per-view. But it was also a one shot for the ages and a huge money-maker for a ton of talents and a ton of Chicago businesses. It remains to be seen if the event will be repeated next year or not, but I'm hoping we will see it again.

The world needs shows that can rival WWE's draw. Cody and the Bucks proved that was possible without sacrificing great wrestling and solid storytelling.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

A veteran, a rebirth and an underdog! The Mae Young Classic lives again!

Image credits for this article:
If WWE has shown anything over the past two years, it is that their tournament events are well worth a watch. Whether it was the Cruiserweight Classic (an event I would like to see again) and the first Mae Young Classic, WWE has proven it can write compelling storylines out of the thirty-two person single elimination tournament.

With the finals announced for WWE Evolution, the show can waste no time with thirty matches to air in the upcoming eight weeks between now and then. With an entirely new (and much improved) announce team of Michael Cole, Renee Young and Beth Phoenix, the call is spot on.

The first round kicks off with Tegan Nox, a British talent with tons of upside that missed the last year to injury, and Zatara, Zartan's evil sister. No, that's Zarana, sorry. The Chilean luchadora Zaranna, one of the best wrestlers in the southern hemisphere. As much as I'd like to see more of Zatanna, this match was a foregone conclusion before it opened. Nox picked up the big win with her shiniest wizard. She moves on to face the winner of Isla Dawn & Nicole Matthews.

The second match brings the first return from the last MYC, Rhea Ripley, the Australian star that was eliminated in a bit of a shock to Dakota Kai. But the young star goes against another very new talent (and a personal favorite of yours truly) MJ Jenkins. This one was really built as a style battle between the fun-loving Jenkins and the intense powerhouse Ripley. Rhea controlled all the early goings of the match, but when Ripley pauses to taunt, it only fires up MJ. Jenkins comes back with some hard strikes of her own. But much like, the previous match, the announce team made the results of this one a foregone conclusion with their heavy focus on Rhea Ripley. MJ Jenkins goes down to a powerbomb, but the knowledge she's now at the Performance Center gives me hopes she can have a bright WWE future. Rhea takes on the winner of Kacy Catanzaro and Reina Gonzalez.

To quote Kid Rock quoting ZZ Top, she has legs & she knows how to use them.

I'm a bit surprised Lacey Lane kept her Ember Moon-esque look, just as I'm a bit surprised they mentioned her Performance Center signing. Vanessa Kraven is just a great power wrestler and against the much shorter Lacey, it creates a fun bout between the two. Vanessa acts as a rampaging beast on the indies, but here she works the more traditional WWE monster style. And despite all the power Kraven brings to the ring, the hometown girl hits a Crucifix Bomb to steal a win from the giant. She'll go on to face the winner of Jessie Elaban and former Undisputed Era dupe Taynara Conti.

The main event of night one pitted the Portuguese Killer Kelly against arguably the greatest still active joshi wrestler in the world today, Meiko Satomura. Killer Kelly is a great talent with a strong future in NXT UK, but seriously, she's facing down Meiko freaking Satomura. I respect the awe all three of the announcers hold for Satomura in their introduction of her, which instantly makes her feel like the big deal she should always be. Yet Killer Kelly was allowed to show how physical she could be, as she delivered some devastating strikes to the joshi veteran. Ultimately though, Satomura showed her fighting spirit and demolished her with a death valley driver a few minutes after hitting the move of the night, a flipping double kick to the back of Kelly's spine. She'll move on to face down one of two veterans in Mercedes Martinez and Ashley (Madison) Rayne. I like Madison, but Meiko and Mercedes has to be a dream match for more than just me.

It takes years to build that level of intensity on a headlock.
Overall, the first episode was very solid. Though the announcers telescoped the winners for eagle-eared fans, they never failed to get any talent's names wrong or forget any moves. Outside a few bad ADR post-recording spots, the first hour of the tournament gave some great wrestling and awesome talent. Like a thousand tournaments before it though, the really story will be to see what comes from the tournament. With Satomura present, it remains to be seen whether WWE will build a relationship with Sendai Girls like it seems to have started with NOAH. Which of the stars from the tournament will immediately hit WWE and NXT television? All that remains to be seen as we have seven weeks of action ahead of us!

What were your highlights from week one of MYC2? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, August 27, 2018

ALL IN: the most significant wrestling event in the last 15 years

A lot of words have already been written about ALL IN, the Young Bucks and Cody-produced mega-show. It sold an unprecedented 10,000+ tickets, unheard of for an indie show up until this point in history. It continues Nick, Matt and Cody's slow change of how wrestling storytelling works. And its card has been named incredibly underwhelming by a ton of critics.

I'm not going to break down the card too much, because I am not sure I will even be watching the show live on the 1st as I have a bunch of other Labor Day weekend plans. But all the critics that have ran down the card have missed the point. ALL IN sold out its entire ticket base without a single match announced. Just the roster of talent managed to do that. Being the Elite, the weekly show the Young Bucks produce every week, scores over 200,000 views every week from a subcriber list of approximately the same size. All it took was one twentieth of that base to make this event a rousing success.

Of course, those same people might decry that the same feat can't be repeated if ALL IN doesn't produce the biggest card possible. This of course ignores the fact that ROH and NJPW have just repeated the over 10,000 number for yet another show without a single announced talent. That show will come Wrestlemania weekend and will be at a venue that served as a WWE stronghold for four decades, Madison Square Garden. Times are changing, folks.

I question how many of these critics actually pay that much attention to the work the Young Bucks have put into the build on their weekly show. It always seemed likely the card would be built around matches for every member of the show's cast. Hence Cody fighting Nick Aldis for the NWA title, Hangman Page fighting Joey Janela, Marty Scurll getting a match against former IWGP Heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada, the Young Bucks and Kota Ibushi teaming to take on a lucha trio consisting of Bandido, Rey Mysterio and Rey Fenix, and of course the once in a life time bout between Penta El Zero Miedo and Kenny Omega. They even built a storyline to give Stephen Amell his first singles match ever against a true ring general, Christopher Daniels. Jay Lethal has become a Being the Elite regular of late as well, so his ROH title defense doesn't come as a surprise, nor does the pre-show appearance of ROH stalwarts, the Briscoe Brothers. They built the show around people they know having battles with people fans want to see. And that's just what they're delivering, which is why all the talk of a lackluster card makes little sense.

My pick for match of the night on September 1st.
The measure of success for ALL IN was accomplished way back in July when they sold the show out. By any stretch of the imagination, it has become an important point in the history of the business. It drew interest from Chicago area cable station WGN America, and now has a network broadcast preshow, something no other wrestling company has been able to boast since Heat left Spike TV in 2005. It already looks capable of shattering independent wrestling pay-per-view records as well and ROH has already talked about an uptick in new subscribers for their own streaming channel, which will also air the event.

The show is a success by any metric before a single wrestler steps into the ring at the Sears Centre. Cody and the Young Bucks took a huge gamble, one that looks to pay off in major dividends come September 1st. And they have likely created the possibility of an independent super show for years ahead.

Independent wrestling has never been stronger in the United States. One way or the other, every fan that travels to a bingo hall or community center or armory to see their favorite stars needs to realize what this means for the industry they love enough to support on the smallest level. The sport of kings has a future even without WWE. And we should all be proud of that.

Monday, August 20, 2018

A few random thoughts and reactions to the action and hijinks of SummerSlam weekend

I'm going to break this one into a few points as I look back at my personal thoughts on SummerSlam weekend, especially what worked and didn't.
Ronda Rousey: WWE's most over champion! Image credit:

  • The NXT Tag Team title opener was a solid match, but it really threw too much out there early in the night. Big false finishes and crazy spots are a staple of the black and gold brand, but its pace really felt like it wore out the crowd for parts of the next match.
  • EC3 feels completely out of place in NXT, mostly because he's a traditional WWE style wrestler in a world of indie super-gold. But his battle with Velveteen Dream really allowed him the chance to shine, even if Dream's victory seemed like an assured thing to me. With Dream effectively now an antihero face, he could easily step into the main event spot heading into Takeover: War Games against Ciampa while the Brits versus The Undisputed Era can highlight the card's namesake.
Velveteen Dream looked like a million bucks at Takeover. Image credit:
  • In the eight years since their last match way back at EVOLVE 6, Adam Cole and Ricochet have both grown immensely. But I'm also very glad that Cole no longer carries the North American title, as its felt like it had no value as party of the ongoing Undisputed Era wars. I hope for a quick rubber match and for Ricochet to go on and take on some new challengers, perhaps other EVOLVE alums like Keith Lee and Matt Riddle. 
  • I feel bad for the NXT women. The brand is so heavily focused on the top two women on the brand and then calling one of those people up every few months, that it hasn't really felt like they've been on solid footing since Bayley, Carmella, Nia Jax and Asuka came to the main roster. Kairi Sane isn't anywhere close to ready for a place on Raw or Smackdown where she would quickly lost (see Moon, Ember.) Shayna will be on the main roster by Survivor Series, and I honestly could see it happening in the next 36 hours. Kairi can start building new feuds with new stars, and wrestlers like Bianca Belair can finally get some time on a bigger stage.
  • The main event match between Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano may be the worst of the three they've wrestled. By no means was it a bad match, but it felt very much like a do-over of their street fight. Topping the Unsanctioned Match isn't realistic, but I'm really bothered that this was the second straight pay-per-view to end with Gargano being a moron. 
  • The pre-show to SummerSlam was underwhelming. The opening encounter was a head-scratcher, Gulak and Alexander needed more time and The Revival were obviously not the team to knock off The B Team. But their matches worked really well for the live crowd, as they set up the crowd to be blown away with a complete reversal in the next contest.
  • Rollins and Ziggler went only twenty-two minutes, but this match was leaps and bounds above their Iron Man match. Place at the open of the card they could afford to go long and epic without worrying about worn out fans sitting on their hands or counting rather than watching what over-booked timed nonsense came at Extreme Rules. Both men seemed more at ease with a match not bogged down the clear hands of others, and they shined with Ambrose and McIntyre as key seconds.
  • The New Day did what they needed to do and made the Bludgeon Brothers look vulnerable. They also accomplished the same thing the majority of the Smackdown matches did: set up a clear place for a Hell in a Cell rematch between the two units. 
  • I have to give props to the folks on the Raw writing side for knowing when a squash match should be on the card no matter the place of their foes. Strowman beat Owens and Balor beat Corbin, both in under two minutes. The Monster Among Men and the Demon both needed strong victories to make their characters continue to work and they delivered that in spades.
The Demon rises! Image credit:
  • The booking of Charlotte and Becky Lynch seems fraught with peril. Charlotte is in heavy danger of becoming a female Roman Reigns, booed by the fans that are tired of the title basically being her anointed place on the roster. The cheers heel Becky received made it clear that the fans aren't going to turn on her in favor of the Queen. 
  • Joe and Styles and Miz and Bryan should not have been so close on the card. Both matches were far too similar in their style to work as well as they could individually. They did both succeed at making it clear these feuds are far from over, and like the New Day and Bludgeon Brothers, seem perfect for a Hell in a Cell match. 
  • Jeff Hardy going eleven minutes surprised me, as it really does feel like he's on an exit path on Smackdown. My fingers are crossed that he's about to wrap up, perhaps with a feud with Orton, and move aside to give us the Rusev / Shinsuke Nakamura feud the US title deserves. 
  • The four Rs now rule supreme in the Raw women's and men's division as pretty much seemed clear from the get go. Ronda's domination of Alexa made me quite happy as I was terrified another Bella heel turn was in the works. The Reigns and Lesnar match was mercifully short, which put at the end of the card was the smartest move they could make. 
  • Strowman coming forward and making his attention clear pre-match made sense. His failing to have said match doesn't. For a man buried under a dozen ladders at Money in the Bank and won, nothing Lesnar did to him should have kept him down to not cash in on Roman. I wonder if we're not moving into an injury storyline to give him time away from the card, or if WWE just will continue with him not cashing in the case for no good reason. (It still bothers me that his character as presented didn't cash in during all of Lesnar's appearances over the lead up.) Now that it's been lined up that Strowman doesn't want to be an opportunist like so many previous holders, he has no reason to book the match wherever and whenever the hell he wants and should get it done sooner rather than later. 
I've seen several lackluster reviews of this year's event already. Honestly I'm a bit perplexed. WWE finally made a few smart decisions in booking while also giving fans a lot of what they wanted. Top to bottom the card either featured solid wrestling or solid storytelling, and in some cases, both. Raw is now ready to build some new feuds for all their titles while Smackdown has started three feuds that could be hot over the next several months. 

Of course, WWE's week to week booking could take them anywhere. But right now, color me intrigued heading into Hell in a Cell. Here's hoping WWE can continue smart booking and great storytelling in the weeks and months ahead.